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Keeping my relationship a secret is taking its toll

Our relationship started when we were both in unhappy long term relationships. We had been friends for over 10 years, and I was back visiting home from living abroad. During that visit we saw each other and ended up sleeping with each other a few times. Things changed for us and we knew that there was something more, much deeper than any relationship either us had been in.

When I was back abroad, we spoke secretly on the phone daily over the next 6 months and the love grew deeper from there. We both acknowledged that we needed to make changes in our lives independently, but that each other was a catalyst to do so.

To make these changes and give ourselves the opportunity to be together, it was a big commitment from each side. For me, leaving a 10-year relationship, quitting my job, and moving to the other side of the world. For him, going through a divorce with his ex with whom he has children, and moving out of his family home.

6 months after my initial visit, we had both gone through with our commitment and we moved in together to a rented flat. That hadn’t been our initial intention, but was meant as an initial stopgap whilst I was job hunting.

Our relationship was still secret, we had a joint friendship group, so wanted to give it a few months before going public. I found it difficult as he would still have to spend time at the old family house, and on occasions, stay over.

2 months after moving back, he asked me to be his girlfriend, which I was hesitant about given the secrecy but did end up saying yes.

A week later, I attended a friend's wedding alone, as the relationship was still secret and I was pretending to be single. The wedding was highly emotional as my best friend who died 6 months prior was meant to be a big part of the day - and still was through speeches, photos, and her widowed husband singing. I was worried about the day on the lead-up, as had to do a reading and was worried about keeping it together. I found the day very overwhelming and emotional and drank a lot to take the edge off. Later on at the wedding, I ended up catching up with a guy I’ve known for years - he had also recently got out of a long-term relationship and knew my friend who had died. I emotionally crossed the line with the level of conversation we had and we ended up going back and sleeping together.

The combination of the emotional day, the amount of drink, and ‘living a lie’ got me caught up in the moment and crossed a line I didn’t want to cross. It’s not rational behaviour, and not an excuse, but I would never have done it had I been sober. I truly love the man I moved back to and want to be with him for the rest of my life. I really regret doing this, as it has jeopardised our relationship, which we both sacrificed so much for.

He knew something was wrong the next day, and the truth came out about what had happened. We have stayed together for 4 months since, and during this time we have gone public with friends and family. However he has now moved out as our relationship has been fraught as a result of trust being broken, and the hurt caused, and he says I’ve ruined his life for leaving his family. He says still loves me and he knows I’m deeply sorry and that I love him. However, he can’t understand why I did that if I truly loved him, and that the combination of alcohol and grief doesn’t stack up. This is a barrier for him as means he doesn’t know that it won’t happen again. He hopes that we can start fresh, and so do I. But there needs to be more work done to understand why I did what I did.

 I am absolutely devastated by what I’ve done and the prospect of not having a future together. There has been so much secrecy, that I haven’t been able to speak to any friends or family about the true loss of this relationship.

Any advice on what to do? 

Who is he to say that alcohol and grief “don’t stack up”? I think it absolutely stacks up. It doesn’t excuse what happened but it goes a very long way to explaining it and I think it’s puzzling that given all you both profess to have been through to get to be a couple, he seems unprepared to see you as a human being who made a mistake, deeply regrets it and wants forgiveness.  I’m wondering if something from a past relationship has made him particularly vulnerable to experiencing a sense of betrayal and broken trust. Sometimes, things that with understanding, love, and consideration could be worked through just get stuck because the past, whatever that may have been, is making an ugly reappearance. 

I’m also curious about the role of ‘secrets’ in your relationship. You say there’s been considerable effort made to keep your relationship unknown to others. Although you’re now ‘public’ as a couple, to what extent has that impacted the couple dynamic you share and the possible need to have a relationship that looks perfect to anyone looking in?  It’s not unusual in couple therapy for a partner who believes they have been betrayed to express, one way or another, a deep sense of shame that they ‘weren’t enough’ from their partner, and as you might imagine, that can impact on their ability to see anything other than their own pain and distress. 

So maybe that sheds a little light (or not) on where he is now. But let’s think about you...

It sounds like so much has been riding on getting this relationship together. You came to realise he was the one you wanted to be with and you made significant changes in your life to make this happen. Whilst I’m sure it may have seemed like an eternity, (after all when we’re really focused on something we want it to happen ASAP), everything does seem to have moved quite quickly.  I’m curious about the transition from being friends for 10 years to becoming an intimate partnership. I think some of what you describe sounds like much of the setting up together was very much on his terms. Moving across the world, giving up a job, and having to keep everything secret may have proved to be even more difficult than you were prepared to concede. Perhaps there is some residual anger there that led to you perhaps without consciously realising it, falling vulnerable to an opportunity to create some space with someone else, albeit fleetingly and with seemingly devasting consequences. I don’t doubt for one minute that the wedding was a time of heightened emotions and in part, great sadness regarding the loss of your friend, but perhaps that plus any residual feelings about everything that had happened previously with your new love translated into what happened next. 

I think it’s very unfair that he blames you for ruining his life. He chose to take the actions he did to be with you and whilst I completely understand he is hurting and feels betrayed if walking away from you is the only option he can think of to resolve the pain he feels – well, that’s one course of action but it’s not the answer for the relationship. Many, many couples survive affairs, fleeting liaisons, and drunken one-night stands. None of these help a partnership but kindness and acknowledgment of the hurt and pain as well as understanding that people get it wrong sometimes or are at a very vulnerable point may have led to something they would not ever have thought of doing normally, it’s often possible to work things through and rebuild trust. 

At the risk of saying something really challenging, I’m concerned that this episode will always be held against you. All this about doing ‘work’ on why you did what you did may be never-ending with you being unable to provide him with the answer he seeks, because the answer is in fact quite simple – he just can’t accept it. That’s a really, really difficult place to be in any relationship as you will always be on the back foot and encouraged to carry a shed load of guilt around with you. My advice is not to put yourself in that position indefinitely. Instead, make your position quite clear. You made a deeply regretted mistake due to the very specific circumstances in which you found yourself. Note to self as well regarding too much booze as this can make fools of any of us. I suggest couple counselling or if you want to explore further where you are with all this terrible upset, perhaps access this for yourself. Most of all, do not accept the ‘you’re a bad person’ mantra that is coming across loud and clear. He is understandably hurt but he is also wanting everything on his terms and that is never a good formula for recovery and forgiveness. 

Do you have a question to ask Ammanda?

Ammanda Major is a sex and relationship therapist and our Head of Service Quality and Clinical Practice

If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with send a message to Ammanda.

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